Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Who to Blame for 'Slander'?

President Vladimir Putin's trips abroad (as well as the visits of foreign leaders to Russia) increasingly resemble the soap opera get-togethers that were the trademark of Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. The Kremlin staff, the Foreign and Defense ministries, and lots of other government officials spend months preparing for events (a G8 meeting for example), as if for a plenum of the Central Committee or a Party Congress in Soviet times. The results, however, are bewildering.

Last week, Putin spent four days in New York and Camp David. He did not get rip-roaring drunk as Yeltsin did from time to time -- Putin instead sipped some lousy coffee at a newly repainted LUKoil gas station in Manhattan. But soberness is no guarantee of efficiency.

In the 1990s, Yeltsin did everything to achieve the best possible results through cultivating excellent personal relations with Western leaders. As Yeltsin before him, Putin regularly fraternizes with his counterparts in Washington, Berlin, Paris and London. But where are the material gains? The task of integrating Russia into Western institutions and the Western community of wealthy, developed nations has not moved a step forward since Yeltsin got Russia accepted as the eighth member of the G7 group.

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

While abroad, Yeltsin often uttered very strange statements, which sent his aides into a frenzy of spin to "clarify" what the leader meant. Putin has followed that tradition.

Last week, he "joked" in New York that freedom of expression is not being suppressed in Russia, because there was never any such freedom to begin with to suppress. In Camp David last week, Putin told a strange and potentially embarrassing story of how the Kremlin was "approached several times" by supporters of Osama bin Laden after Sept. 11, 2001, and offered an alliance that was refused only because of good personal relations with President George W. Bush.

This week, at the UN World Climate Change Conference, Putin needlessly offended environmentalists and many European nations by refusing to even consider ratifying the Kyoto agreement anytime soon. (Without Moscow's consent Kyoto cannot go into effect.)

Putin could easily have garnered plenty of international esteem by simply announcing that the Kremlin would send Kyoto to the State Duma for ratification. Afterward, the document could be kept in parliament for as long as needed for "consideration" and it would not be seen as the Kremlin's fault. Instead, Putin added insult to injury by making a politically incorrect joke about Russia being a country with a chilly climate that could benefit from global warming.

Putin speaks good German and is studying English. He is genuine when he talks of a desire for Russia to become part of Europe. But our president and his advisers obviously do not understand much about how the West functions or what is needed to become a part of it.

In Soviet times, our Communist leaders, diplomats, generals and spooks truly believed that Western countries were, in essence, similar to ours: that democracy was a PR sham, and that independent media, representative government and an independent judiciary were just covers for the real bosses who rule the West.

These Soviet spooks, generals and diplomats continue to rule Russia. In today's "democratic" Russia, parliament is indeed a sham, elections are rigged, the judiciary is corrupt, and most media outlets are propaganda machines.

Most members of the Russian elite, including Putin, truly believe that in the last decade Russia has made great strides toward becoming part of the West. We now have all the paraphernalia of a functioning democracy and our president is everybody's friend, so why is Russia still kept out in the cold?

Russia is corrupt, but the West is also corrupt. Tycoons are tried and sometimes convicted in the West for stealing, so why is Putin indicted for knocking his own oligarchs around and handing out the loot to his minions? Why do Western journalists constantly embarrass Putin by asking questions about Russian atrocities in Chechnya?

Putin has repeatedly and openly offered a pact of friendship: We abuse human rights in Chechnya, you in turn do the same in Iraq, and we'll all be happy partners and allies. But in return a campaign of "anti-Russian libel" engulfed the editorial pages of major U.S. newspapers last week.

Now the Kremlin is trying to work out who is behind it. The exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, perhaps? Could silencing him for good solve the problem of integrating Russia with the West?

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.